World Health Day: Diabetes in Pregnancy Can Affect Baby’s Brain

Diabetes during pregnancy can alter the baby’s brain functioning permanently

Updated07 Feb 2017, 12:05 PM IST
Her Health
3 min read

(Every year April 7th is observed as the World Health Day. This year, the World Health Organisation’s theme, ‘Beat Diabetes’ - is particularly important for India which has the dubious distinction of being the ‘Diabetes Capital of the World’ with 65 million diabetics in the country)

“Congratulations! You’re pregnant. Here, finish these huge bars of chocolates. Now you’re eating for two,” said no doctor ever.

“Eating for two,” though as archaic as dinosaurs, is an urban myth that just manages to seep in all the time. Every pregnant woman has dealt with relatives, friends or friends of friends, who advise you to eat twice as before and pile on weight.

But mommies-to-be, here is an important reason to have a fitness goal in this phase as well. Research says fluctuating blood sugar levels in pregnancy can cause irreversible damage to the baby’s brain, making them slow in school with memory related issues.

Gestational Diabetes & Brain Development

Expectant mothers who exercise,  reduce their chances of gestational diabetes by 30-40% (Photo: iStock)
Expectant mothers who exercise, reduce their chances of gestational diabetes by 30-40% (Photo: iStock)

12% of pregnant women or 4 million woman get gestational diabetes in their pregnancy every year, according to the Public Health Foundation of India. Now this is less than the global average of 15% preggers getting diabetes, but it’s still a cause for concern.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota studied newborns of more than 20,000 women till the age of 8. They found infants of diabetic women had consistent problems with memory; specifically their ability to recognise the mother’s voice (at birth), face (at 6months) and sequences of actions (at age 3).

The research shows infants of diabetic mothers,  have ‘poor cognitive outcomes’  in school (Photo: iStock)
The research shows infants of diabetic mothers, have ‘poor cognitive outcomes’ in school (Photo: iStock)

Experts say this happens when the glucose levels fluctuate in pregnancy as this can damage the rapidly developing hippocampus of the baby in the third trimester. The wavering blood sugar levels in the mother, alters the glucose levels in the baby, which leads to iron and oxygen deficiency in the brain.

The lack of oxygen, at a time when millions of cells are taking shape is known to damage the hippocampus - the part of the brain which helps us remember events the way we experience it.

Now these children were studied at the age of 8 and they had “poor cognitive outcomes”. Scientists are further studying to pinpoint exactly which aspect of the memory gets affected in the hippocampus.

The bottom-line is that developing diabetes in pregnancy is not such a devastating thing, but you have to take care and not let it fluctuate.

How Much Pregnancy Weight Is Too Much?

Pregnancy is when you’re officially allowed to swear, curse, give-in to cravings and blame your hormones for all of it. But no matter how much you love your donuts, as a rule of thumb, gaining between 10-12.5 kgs in your pregnancy, is considered excessive. There is a direct relation between piling on the kilos and gestational diabetes.

If you’re carrying a single baby, you only need 300 extra calories than before; that’s a slice of homemade pizza or an additional vegetable sandwich in the day.

Also Read: Generation XL: Two Out of Three Kids in India Are Pre-Diabetic

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Published: 29 Jun 2015, 10:05 AM IST

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